It’s kind of crazy to say, but live music has been making a slow and steady comeback in Rhode Island. One place that has been bringing the tunes to an outdoor stage on their front lawn is Pump House Music Works over on 1464 Kingstown Road in Wakefield. Since the start of July they’ve been having a lot of jazz and folk music resonate through the air, but tomorrow night, there’s going to be something a bit different. Providence funk-jam act Jabbawaukee will be headlining a show that guarantees a fun, socially distanced experience. Mystic based Grateful Dead cover band Mystic Dead will be opening things up.
I had a talk ahead of the show with bassist and co-vocalist Brendon Bjorness-Murano about getting things done around the house, celebrating his birthday, taking care of his mental health and live music’s uncertainty in the months ahead.
Rob Duguay: While at home over the past few months, what would you say was the biggest project you were able to get done?
Brendon Bjorness - Murano: Well, there were a few. I built a massive fire pit out of stones in my yard and hand mixed 50 bags of concrete and 25 bags of mortar by hand. I am well into the completion of my three room recording studio in my basement and I edited the drum tracks while also nearing the completion of the new Jabbawaukee album for this fall. I’d have to say the biggest project was my mental health. I lost it, hard, a number of times in the past few months.
I’ve had a few very close friends die for many different reasons, dealing with distance learning with my wife and two children, watching Jabbawaukee’s 35 show tour just crumble after spending a lot of hours booking it and all of the hatred I see here in our country and around the world has really affected me, my anxiety and depression. I’ve really been working hard on keeping that under control, and I feel that I’ve come very far. I have really worked hard on that and feel like I’ve made strides in the past month that I haven’t made in years. I have had to make a conscious decision to do this every day, stay on top of it and make it my routine.
RD: It’s always important to take care of what’s going on in your head. It makes everything else that much easier to deal with.
BJM: Absolutely, it definitely does.
RD: Over the past few weeks, you’ve played outdoor gigs with both Owleye and Jabbawaukee. What have these situations been like for you? Does it feel normal at all or still kind of weird?
BJM: Right off the bat, It feels weird. We were used to playing two to three shows a week, traveling, playing some really great festivals and opening for some amazing bands. Then we came back in the beginning of June with our first show in months being at The Island in North Smithfield. Around 175 people came out, social distancing was put to the test but everyone stayed safe. Then at the end of June we played at Fields of Fire in Connecticut, which was a drive-in style show.
That was a surreal experience, but it was a cool time. We were on a rock cliff 100 ft away from all these cars spread out over this huge lot. Owleye, which is me on guitar while switching vocals with Julie Zito, played another Connecticut show recently at Stonington Vineyards. Everyone was spread out with their group of friends and masks were worn whenever anyone traveled outside their group. It was very safe. Now Jabbawaukee has every weekend booked from July 31 on into September.
I mean, in the moment of playing and my eyes are closed, it feels normal which is great. It’s just when we show up and are done playing that reality kicks back in, that things are downright weird.
RD: I can definitely see why you’d feel that way. What are your feelings going into the outdoor show at Pump House Music Works on the 31st?
BJM: I cannot wait to play it. I’m also turning 40 two days prior, which hurts to say.. I am the head sound engineer at Pump House Music Works and I also teach classes on sound engineering, both studio and live, and bass. I have been working closely with the owner, Dan Collins, and the rest of the crew there, the community and all of the amazing bands that donated their time and art to play, on setting up this amazing outdoor venue outside of the Pump House. To be able to now play on it, especially with so few venues being able to operate is really amazing. Just watching this project that we dove into come to fruition is really great.
RD: How do you handle these situations when you’re playing show while also running the board for the whole thing?
BJM: Well, I used to do both but because of the stress involved I don’t do it anymore. I know how to mix Jabbawaukee’s sound pretty well, but I’d rather just focus on me playing bass and singing rather than trying to do both. For the show on the 31st, Brian Cabral will be handling sound and he’s one of my favorite sound guys to work with.
RD: What do you think the future holds for live music going forward?
BJM: If I or anyone told you that they knew, we’d be lying to you. Based on what I have been reading about viruses, particularly COVID-19, and what I’ve heard in the entertainment industry, my best guess is after they are a few runs deep into the vaccine and they find one safe enough that works. From what I have read it takes years to create vaccines. I imagine folks will be wary of the first run of a vaccine that will have been created in under a year. If the new trials they are doing have an accurate timeline, supposedly by Spring 2021 a vaccine will be made fully available.
I’m not a scientist by any means so please keep in mind. If it takes them say, another six months to work out the kinks and actually get most everyone to agree to taking the vaccine, you’d be looking at winter 2021 and who knows if it mutates? I think we will unfortunately have to get used to live streaming and smaller capacity, outdoor shows until spring and summer 2022. If I had to give you my honest, best guess, take that as you will.